Monday, September 23, 2013

Week 4: Asking Uncomfortable Questions: Unpacking Women’s Reproductive Rights, Our Position of Privilege, and Assumptions about Development

by Sarah Nunes and Amanda Maisel

Scene from Sister Namibia’s performance piece on the prevalence of corrective rape.
This photo is public domain and found on 
Sister Namibia's Facebook page

On Monday, several of us went to see a performance put on by a local feminist organization called Sister Namibia, which addressed through performance art issues such as teenage pregnancy, abortion, baby dumping, alcoholism and addiction, as well as other themes important to teen reproductive health. One of the dances followed the narratives of three teenage pregnant girls, highlighting their struggles with abusive boyfriends. The dance showed different routes taken by the teens to solve their problems such as attempted abortion, baby dumping, and adoption. We were somewhat disturbed by the portrayal of abortion, which included one boyfriend giving his girlfriend poison to drink, leading to her accidental death. It seemed that this feminist organization was perpetuating societal stigma about abortion as an option, which is already pervasive given its legality only in cases of rape, incest, and mental illness. The anti-abortion stigma was reflected in the facilitated dialogue following the performance, when a thorough exploration of hardships facing pregnant teens lacked any talk of making abortion a legal and safe option. However, in all other ways the event seemed extremely progressive and empowering to young women and men, who were extremely engaged in the dialogue after the performance. We were really happy with the huge turnout, particularly with the number of men, to a feminist presentation like this. One of the young men noted the need to “talk about what it means to be a man, a good man, and how this affects women,” which was really impressive.

Our politics class with National Youth Coalition Executive 
Chairman Mandela Kapere
The next day we were able to ask some of the questions on our mind during the Sister Namibia presentation to Mandela Kapere about women’s reproductive rights, more specifically his views on abortion. Kapere is the Executive Chairman of the National Youth Council, an umbrella organization for youth organizations and youth development issues. Kapere touched on a broad range of issues, but we were particularly impressed with his candor on issues touching on abortion and infanticide, particularly given the political sensitivity of such issues in a predominantly Christian country. We were especially struck by his description of the reality that it is the most vulnerable young women who fall victim to the restrictive nature of Namibia’s abortion regulations; prohibitive laws sometimes drive these women to commit infanticide in dire situations, often leading to jail sentences. Kapere described these circumstances as a “grossly unfair [way] to punish these women”1. In explaining some of the projects in motion surrounding youth services, he mentioned a push for “youth friendly health services” to provide birth control to youths in a stigma-free environment as opposed to in family health centers and hospitals, where teens are discouraged from accessing birth control due to concern over confidentiality in small community networks. Kapere mentioned that the low teen usage levels of free birth control resources might also have to do with “our system of patriarchy and male chauvinism”2. Hearing these boldly feminist terms come out of the mouth of a high-ranking official was pretty inspiring.

In addition to telling us what’s being done for youth, Chairman Kapere told us about some of the issues that youth activists themselves are most passionate about today; the three major areas of activism that Kapere described were genuine economic empowerment, resource ownership and land redistribution, and environmental issues. Youth groups are particularly interested in the economic empowerment that can be obtained by redistributing land from outsourced elites to the historically disenfranchised majority3.

Another highlight of the week was our racism workshop with Professor Romanus Shivoro in history class on Thursday. We spent the duration of the class watching videos and participating in exercises that helped us to navigate our own privilege and analyze the invisible impacts of institutional racism that occur on a day-to-day basis. We watched a series of clips by Tim Wise, a highly articulate antiracist white ally, called “Does Race Still Matter?” which we felt was an important example of an effective antiracist ally who vividly described the phenomenon of societal awareness of racism being only retrospective; the video series caused us to think about ways in which our society and we as individuals might be perceived as racist by future generations4. It helped us to challenge our own complacency in terms of where we are as antiracists today. We also watched an incredible film called The Color of Fear, which showed a transformative conversation between a group of men from different races and different intersectional experiences with racism and privilege5. The ability to not walk away from conflict and to confront ignorance and misconceptions in a constructive and impactful way gave us a blueprint for the level of patience and diligence that we want to hold ourselves to in our own conversation about racism and privilege.

For many of us, one of the most interesting readings thus far was for our development class this Friday. The article was called “What Causes Poverty: A Postmodern View” and was written by Lakshman Yapa. The article, in conjunction with our class discussion, challenged us to think about how the discourse we use to talk about poverty and development can actually create “artificial scarcity” and limit problem solving options by defining poverty in strictly economic and western terms. This narrow conception of poverty both reifies the “poor” as an “other” and distinct group of victims and exacerbates problems by limiting solutions to non-specific necessarily monetary measures6. The article challenged us to consider the assumptions that underlie own understanding of “poverty” and “development”.

Vekondja Tjikuzu, The Deputy Director of the
National Planning Commission of Namibia after his presentation
about the national development plan and the Namibia Vision 2030.
While we were inspired to think about alternative ways of reaching “development” goals, we also got a very insightful but more conventional view of economic development from the National Planning Commission of Namibia. Vekondja Tjikuzu, the Deputy Director, gave a presentation about the national development plan that Namibia is implementing in order to achieve Namibia’s Vision 2030 goals. He also talked about TIPEEG (Targeted Intervention Program for Employment and Economic Growth) and a new project putting money aside for comprehensive housing provisions, which to us sounded like a very productive and exciting direction for Namibia be heading7. Deputy Director Tjikuzu demonstrated to us how economic investment could be an effective tool of development when implemented by the country that it will affect and with an acute awareness of the underlying social factors that exacerbate structural inequalities. 

1 Mandela Kapere, Executive Chairman of the National Youth Council of Namibia, 9/10/2013
2 Mandela Kapere, Executive Chairman of the National Youth Council of Namibia 9/10/2013
3 Mandela Kapere, Executive Chairman of the National Youth Council for Namibia, 9/10/2013
4 Wise, Tim. “Does Race Still Matter?” 2010.
5 Mun Wah, Lee. The Color of Fear. 1994
6 Yapa, Laksham. “What Causes Poverty: a Postmodern View”. Department of Geography, Pennsylvania State Univeristy1997.
7 Vekondja Tjikuzu, the Deputy Director of the National Planning Commission in Namibia, 9/13/2013

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